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COVID Journey

Walkers hope experience helps others
Sunday, August 15, 2021
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Leader photo by NANCY BERGERON

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker and his wife Kay spoke with the Leader about their recent bouts with COVID-19.

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker thought he had a sinus infection. His throat was sore. His nose was stuffy. Classic symptoms of sinus and allergies. It was Saturday, July 17.

Walker, 69, was to play golf the next day. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. By Sunday afternoon, he could barely get out of bed.

On Monday, he went to the doctor. On Wednesday, “they called me and said, ‘you’ve got COVID,’” Walker said.

That same day, Walker’s wife, Kay, began feeling headachy. Her temperature rose to 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I had the migraine headache that didn’t go away,” Kay Walker said.

She, too, was diagnosed with a breakthrough case of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

The couple had each received the two-injection Pfizer vaccine shortly after it became available earlier this year.

They say they have no idea where they contracted COVID, but they want to use their experience to show people that vaccines work — and that each moment of life is precious.

“I’m living proof of if you have the shot and get COVID, you have a much better chance of surviving,” Ronny Walker said.

The vaccines are not designed to prevent COVID, but to lessen the severity of cases.

Initially, the couple’s doctor started each of them on antibiotic Z-packs. At that point, Kay Walker said she thought she was more ill than her husband; after all, the couple had begun walking back and forth to the mailbox several times a day for exercise, and Ronny Walker no longer had fever.

But a week later, on July 24, things hadn’t markedly improved. On the advice of their doctor, the Walker’s got a pulse oximeter from a local pharmacy. The device measures how much oxygen is in a person’s blood. The small device clips onto a finger.

“I was at 92% and Kay was at 94%,” the mayor said.

Though an oxygen saturation level of 95% or higher is considered normal, COVID patients often need supplemental care when their blood oxygen saturation is between 92% and 96%.

By 2 p.m., the Walkers were in the Northern Louisiana Medical Center emergency room. X-rays showed Ronny Walker had slight pneumonia in his right lung.

“I didn’t hear anything from then on,” Kay Walker said. “In my mind, all I keep thinking was COVID, pneumonia, vent and death.”

And so, the Walkers prayed.

Ronny Walker said one of the things that stands out most to the couple are the number of people who prayed for them when their illnesses became public.

“Everywhere we go, people are saying, ‘we prayed for you.’ The outpouring, that was huge,” he said.

On the Saturday they went to the emergency room, both Kay and Ronny Walker had infusions to fight their illness. But Kay Walker got to go home. She remembers glancing back at her husband being pushed in a wheelchair down the hospital hall to a room and praying, “God, please don’t let this be the last time I see him.”

“All I could think about was ‘Oh my God, I’m home alone. I just left my husband in the hospital with COVID,’” she said.

She sat and cried.

Ronny Walker by then was in a hospital room, hooked up to IVs.

He said his COVID diagnosis left him “shocked.”

“I thought I was bulletproof because I’d had the shot,” he said.

His wife was scared. From her husband’s first complaints of a sinus infection, she feared COVID.

“I knew the whole time he had COVID. I just knew,” Kay Walker said.

Ronny Walker developed a secondary infection and stayed in the hospital almost five days. He praises the care he received at NLMC.

“They were incredible,” he said.

Only as Walker prepared to go home did he learn how ill he’d been.

“I just didn’t realize the severity of it. If I had, I’d have been scared to death,” he said.

He said his doctors told him that had he not been vaccinated, he would likely have been placed on a mechanical ventilator.

Ronny Walker came off his 21-day quarantine on Monday. He’s back at City Hall every day since then. Walker lost 23 pounds during his illness; he said he’s regained 6 pounds.

The couple is walking between three and four miles a day.

Kay Walker said she still can’t taste, nor is her sense of smell back to normal. But she said she can deal with that.

The Walkers, who celebrate their wedding anniversary this month, say their COVID experience has brought them closer together, and they hope talking about it helps others.

“We want to share our experience with people so they’ll know had we not had the vaccine, it would have been so much worse for both of us,” Kay Walker said.

“I’m very much an advocate of the shot,” Ronny Walker said. “I know there’s a lot on both sides of the fence, but we also know beyond a shadow of a doubt if you have the shot (and get COVID), it’s not going to be as bad. There’s no doubt it helped me.”